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Future Network is a quarterly virtual event co-programmed by our teams across the UK (in Liverpool, Peterborough and Southend). Throughout the year, we invite artists to host online sharings in response to a theme and also present accompanying material through a contribution to Metal’s website. For this Future Network the theme is Test, Try, Fail and we welcome artists Andrew Ibi, Monique Jackson, Roxanne Carney and Tijs van Bakel.

Test, Try, Fail is a celebration of experimenting and the processes that move us forward through mistakes, mishaps, and the under appreciated art of getting things wrong. For this special first event, we invite artists to respond to their own creative processes, wandering and exploration, share their working out, missteps, happy accidents, changes of mind, and the ideas that just had to get scrapped to start again. Join us to explore those nebulous processes that led to unexpected wins, chances taken, and the delightful disasters or wild schemes that never should have worked but did. There is no place for perfection in our creative journey so if at first you don’t succeed, fail and fail again.


Tijs van Bakel

Tijs van Bakel is a conceptual artist, working in Rotterdam. He is interested in why people live the lives they live.   Currently, he is focusing on taking his art career seriously.

“Join me in my quest of taking my art career seriously.   As part of this, I am experimenting with making work for a specific target audience. I plan to make a photorealistic drawing of a sheep, because I like drawing, and because sheep may inspire my target audience of philosophically minded people.

I found out that in nature, no two things are the same.

Sheep are particularly interesting in this respect.

For me they symbolize the fundamentals of mathematics and science, because they are so easily counted.

However, if you look closely, they are terribly complex wooly creatures.”



Not the same sheep

This year, I am taking my art career very seriously. As a part of this, I want to make a photorealistic drawing of two sheep. Allow me to explain.

This is the initial design, after taking many, many, photos of sheep. I have added a caption, stating that these are not the same sheep. Note that this is still a photo, not a drawing.

I plan to do the drawing in charcoal on a large sheet of paper. I am pretty slow at drawing, and somewhat of a perfectionist, so this project will take me approximately three months to finish. If I can work full time on it, that is — which I can’t.

So, let’s see if I can come up with another approach that takes less time and effort. I will do some testing and trying. If I fail to find a better way, I can safely return to the original idea and spend the rest of the year drawing.

My typical approach for this is to buy a new sketchbook and start working with stuff that I find lying around in my studio. Here you see me using colourful markers, scissors, and some printouts of the sheep design. I’m sorry if you can’t read the text — I sometimes can’t read my own scribbles back either.

At this stage, I have no clue what I am doing, and after a few days of filling the sketchbook with similar pages, I get very confused. I tend to forget my initial goal, take in a lot of extra nonsense from books and the internet, and feel terrible.

In this sketch, I try to make sense of it all. Why did I want to make drawings of sheep again?

See, this year, I am taking my art career very seriously. I have always taken my art seriously, but this year I am focusing on my art career as well. Depending on what this means, this leads to several complications.

If I want to be somewhat more famous, or if I want to make a living out of my art career, then I should at least produce more work to show and sell. My current love for photorealistic drawing is not very helpful in this respect. Last year, I had finished only one drawing. As part of taking my art career seriously, I am spending more time in my studio, and my output has increased to three drawings in half a year. Unfortunately, one of these drawings was a commissioned artwork that didn’t fit the theme of taking my art career seriously. So, for this new drawing, I want to make sure that copying all those blades of grass is time well spent.

You see me saying “Hmm” to the drawing of the sheep, which means that I still have little clue what is going on there. For some odd reason, I also drew a few red/green/blue pixels with a binary representation of a colour. My photo-realistic drawings are in black and white, so let’s do some quick experiments with colour, to see if that gets me anywhere.

These drawings or paintings are fun to make, but I always end up feeling a little unsatisfied with just mere pictures. The thing I like most about contemporary art is that you get to play with ideas as well as paint. I really like philosophy.

As part of taking my art career seriously, I read several books on marketing and how to become a successful artist. Most of these books suggest that I should write up a mission statement and determine a target audience. One may not pick “the whole world” for this, so I settled for “people with an interest in philosophy”. That basically describes me, so if all else fails, I still had fun along the way.

This finally brings me to the point where I can explain about the sheep.

As a kid, I read a book from which I learned that counting was invented by shepherds. They would carry a small bag of pebbles, one for each sheep in their herd. At night, when the sheep were collected, they would count one pebble for each sheep. If you have a remaining pebble, you miss a sheep. So, for me, counting and sheep are intrinsically related.

I doubt that the book was scientific, and I can’t find this story on the origins of counting on the internet. Even though the story may be false, I still believe that sheep are a good visual metaphor for the foundations of mathematics. And there we have something that I am really interested in. How can it be that we have so much knowledge, mostly based on mathematics — yet we have no clue why we experience things, or why our universe even exists?

Next to the sheep, another imaginary friend of mine is the rock. I often try to imagine what life would be like if I were a rock. There is probably not much going on. I think that the rock has about the same perspective as the universe, which is quite different from a human perspective (or that from an animal).

How would the universe (or the rock) perceive a sheep?

Would it be able to recognize two sheep as being of the same kind?

Would it be able to count them?

I guess not!

In trying to find answers to these questions, I read a lot of philosophical books and papers.

There are many interesting leads that I still have to follow. A lot of it, I don’t understand, but I happily plod along in my studio. In trying to understand the term deconstruction by Jacques Derrida, for example, I took up my scissors again.

Well, this sort of failed, after I cleaned up my desk.”

Tijs van Bakel – Future Networks: Test, Try, Fail